April Ryan Challenges and Encourages Graduates at Claflin University's 148th Commencement

May 13, 2018
April Ryan

Distinguished author and White House correspondent April Ryan challenged the Claflin's Class of 2018 to make their mark on society through political and social engagement, as they begin the next chapter of their lives.  She also told the graduates to look back from where they came to see their hopes for the future.

"When I graduated from college in 1989, I could have never imagined questioning four presidents from the United States," said Ryan in her keynote address on Saturday (May 12) to 385 visionary scholars and their families and friends at Claflin's 148th Commencement.  "In the times in which we live today, you need to be open to what life brings you.  This chapter is closing at this moment.  It's the next day that matters.  And, if after graduating from this wonderful HBCU (Historically Black College/University) you don't know who you are, you don't know where you are going."

Since 1997, Ryan has served as a White House correspondent and is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. In 2017, she joined CNN as a political analyst. In May 2017, the National Association of Black Journalists named Ryan as the "Journalist of the Year.”  Ryan has been a member of the White House press corps for American Urban Radio Networks since January 1997 and has long been the only black female reporter among the White House correspondents. She is a member of the National Press Club and one of only three African Americans to have served on the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

"I think about the students at Harvard University and how they are told, 'You are the best of the best and we educate you so that you can go out and change the system.' Why does that have to be a doctrine for Harvard," Ryan asked.  "Why can't it be a doctrine for Claflin and other HBCUs?  You matriculated through this historic HBCU to challenge the system and to leave here as someone who brings good to the community.   It's not easy but you have to show them who you are."  

Ryan, a graduate of Morgan State University, was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater in 2017. She began her media career as a jazz disc jockey before turning to reporting.

"This has been an historic year. Last month we remembered that is was 50 years ago that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated," said Ryan.   "We still worry if our HBCUs will remain open.   We live in a time when our kids are having issues when they go to a waffle house and a time when you need to wear the paraphernalia of certain schools to sit in the lobby of or a residence hall at that school.  Fifty-eight years ago, the poor people's March was started by Dr. King.  But we are still talking about issues of poverty in Washington, D.C.  Fifty-years ago the Kerner Commission issued its historic report about the relationship between police and the black community and people today are upset because Colin Kaepernick is taking a knee.  You need to know who you are and who's you are.  What will be your story?"

Ryan gained notoriety in 2017 after notable exchanges with President Donald Trump and his former press secretary Sean Spicer. At a February press conference, when Trump began talking about "inner city places" and urban crime, she asked him if he planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He responded by telling Ryan to set up the meeting with them before asking, "Are they friends of yours?" Ryan responded that she was only a reporter and not a member of the CBC. As one of the few African Americans in the White House press corps, Ryan is often the only journalist asking questions on issues concerning minorities.

"We are in a critical time. It's on you. You are our hope and our change," said Ryan who admitted she becomes upset when young people use their vote to protest rather than support a candidate.  "I don't care who you vote for.  Your vote makes a difference," said Ryan. "Too many people died by the crack of the billy club or had the sting of the hose on their skin so you could vote.  You are the hope and dreams of slaves and those who marched for our rights. You are part of 'we the people.'  There is power in who you are.  When you think about where you come from and where you going, you may not really know what life has in store.  But understand that you carry the hopes and dreams of your families because many of you are first generation college graduates.  Blood, sweat and tears paid for your degree.  Do not let us down."

 The Class of 2018 comprises 385 students from South Carolina representing 38 counties. The class also includes students representing 19 other states and international students from eight countries.  The top five majors for Class of 2018 graduates are criminal justice, psychology, mass communications, business administration and biology.

Two high-achieving seniors of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College, Trisana Fairweather and Brianna Williams, achieved 4.0 cumulative grade point averages and were presented Presidential Academic Excellence Awards.  Fairweather, who had the highest total of credits hours, was selected to give the time-honored "Senior Challenge."  She was Claflin's first-ever NCAA Division II national champion and All-American in track in the 200 meters.  Fairweather earned her bachelor's in accounting and she will continue her education in graduate school at Indiana University.

Williams, a psychology major who was recognized as a "Rising Star" in the prestigious Ron McNair program, will pursue a doctorate in at the University of Illinois.

The Presidential Excellence in Leadership and Service Award was presented to senior Dominque Riggins, a history major from Albany, Ga.  Riggins, who served as president of Claflin's Student Government Association (SGA) as a junior, plans to attend law school.

Dr. Belinda Wheeler was the recipient of the James E. Hunter Excellence in Teaching Award.  Dr. Wheeler is an associate professor of English. 

Dr. Bijoy Dey, assistant professor of physical chemistry received the William and Annette Johnson Innovative Scientific Research Award. Dr. Dey has been awarded two patents and articles on his research have received multiple citations from scientists from around the world.

The Golden Class of 1968, which celebrated its 50th anniversary as Claflin graduates, was presented Golden Diplomas.  Nearly 40 members of the Class of 1968 returned to the University for Commencement Weekend activities that included a luncheon on Friday (May 11) hosted by President Tisdale and First Lady Alice Carson Tisdale.

Four members of the Class of 2018 were commissioned with the rank of second lieutenant (O-1).  The students have completed South Carolina State University's Bulldog Battalion Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program and earned active duty commission in the United States Army.

Since 1967, Claflin University has offered Air Force and Army ROTC programs through a cross enrollment agreement with South Carolina State University.

Claflin's graduating ROTC cadets are: Deandre Jordan Jennings, a criminal justice major from Columbia, S.C.; Latasha Camray Deasia Jones, an early childhood education major from Charleston, S.C.; Jessica Brielle Mozie, a business administration major with a concentration in accounting from Winnsboro, S.C.; and Nicholas Dashawn Williams, a computer science major from Hampton, S.C.

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